Original paper

Schleswig: Medieval leprosy on the boundary between Germany and Denmark

Boldsen, Jesper L.; Rasmussen, Kaare Lund; Riis, Thomas; Dittmar, Manuela; Weise, Svenja

Anthropologischer Anzeiger Volume 70 No. 3 (2013), p. 273 - 287

published: Nov 1, 2013

DOI: 10.1127/0003-5548/2013/0318

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ArtNo. ESP140007003003, Price: 29.00 €

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Abstract

Leprosy was a well-recognized and dreaded disease in medieval Europe. The disease is reported to have reached Germany with the Roman invasion and it was present in Scandinavia in the first centuries AD. This paper estimates and analyzes the frequency of leprosy among adult people buried in one of five medieval cemeteries in the city of Schleswig. Seven different dichotomous osteological lesions indicative of leprosy were analyzed, and it was possible to score at least one of these conditions on 350 adult skeletons (aged 15 or older). The scores were transformed to a statistic indicating the likelihood that the person to whom the skeleton belonged suffered from leprosy. It was found that the frequency of leprosy in the five cemeteries varied between 9 and 44 %. Four of the five cemeteries showed frequencies ranging from 35 and 44 % and with no statistically significant differences among them. The fifth cemetery showed a significantly lower frequency of leprosy (9 %). The distribution of female age at death does not appear to be affected by leprosy status. This means that females experienced a considerably elevated risk of dying once they had contracted leprosy as the disease usually has a mid-adulthood age of onset. In four of the five cemeteries males with leprosy died in higher ages than men without leprosy ? in two of the cemeteries the difference was statistically significant. This indicates that leprosy usually added less to the risk of dying among men than among women in medieval Schleswig.

Keywords

dichotomous osteological lesionsdiseasenon-leprosarium cemetery